Madrid braces for partial lockdown as virus surges

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Madrid braces for partial lockdown as virus surges

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Almost a million Madrid residents prepared for a partial lockdown on Sunday, with several hundred marching in protest as Spanish authorities tried to curb a second wave of COVID-19.

The restrictions, which come into effect for two weeks on Monday, affect 850,000 people who live mostly in densely populated, low-income neighborhoods in the south – or 13 percent of the 6.6 million people who live in and around the capital.

Like many countries in Europe, Spain is struggling with a surge in the coronavirus and Madrid is again the hardest hit region.

"We are concerned about the data we are seeing because the number of cases is twice the national average and the number of hospital admissions … three times the national average," Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said in a television interview Saturday.

But he stressed that he was not considering national lockdown.

Several districts in the south of Madrid have counted more than 1,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – about five times the national average, which in itself is the highest in the European Union.

Residents will be forbidden from leaving their district except for important travel such as work, medical care or school visits, the Madrid regional government said on Friday.

They are allowed to move freely within their zone, but no one from outside is allowed in unless it is absolutely necessary.

The parks will be closed, but shops, bars, and restaurants will remain 50 percent open.

Meanwhile, gatherings of more than six people are banned across the region, up from the current ten.

On Sunday, people took to the streets in some of the affected districts to protest the new measures.

They carried posters saying "No to a class-based lockdown" or "You're destroying our district and now locking us up".

Hundreds gathered in the affected districts and outside the regional parliament to shout their disapproval.

"The health centers have had minimal staff for years, they don't have enough staff or nurses … and this crisis has made things worse," said Victoria, a 63-year-old civil servant.

"They have the impression that they think we are fools. We will be able to continue working in other non-delimited zones if there is a risk of transmission ramping up and we will be able to get infected in our own zone as well." Bethania Perez, a 31-year-old nurse, told AFP.

Madrid's regional president Isabel Diaz Ayuso, who was beaten up for managing the crisis, will meet with Sanchez on Monday.

The meeting is a sign of the central government's concern about the Madrid crisis, as the management of public health issues is usually the responsibility of the Spanish regional authorities.

According to regional health authorities, the health system in Madrid is under increasing pressure. Every fifth hospital bed is occupied by COVID patients.

Experts therefore fear a sharp increase in the regional death rate – which is currently much lower than in spring – in the coming weeks.

Spain has so far recorded over 30,000 deaths – one of the worst tolls in Europe – and 600,000 confirmed cases, according to official figures.

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© 2020 AFP

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